For a construction project to be successful, there must be effective communication between all the people involved in its delivery from start to finish.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. When communication is lacking or poor, this opens the door for mistakes, including around safety and productivity plus their associated costs. On the other hand, when communication is strong, not only can you avoid such pitfalls but this also creates an environment where collaborative working practices can be adopted and where both the people who work on the project and the project itself are set up for success.
Keep reading this week’s blog for a closer look at why communication is so important and what you can do to improve it.
What happens when communication fails
Failures in communication can happen at any point in a construction process and for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common include:
- Technological issues like people communicating via different platforms (e.g. some using text while others use email).
- Problems when the workflows, standards and templates used on a site have not been clearly defined.
- Cases where not everyone on a team speaks the same language or have vastly different levels of construction knowledge.
- Situations when people do not pass on information in time for it to be useful.
For construction projects, the consequences of such communication failures can be hugely damaging. They can lead to oversights around safety, legal disputes, projects going off-schedule and costly reworking.
How to improve communication
The good news is there are lots of ways of improving communication and ensuring your construction project stays on track. Here are five tips:
1. Establish the chain of communication
Good communication can be established at the earliest phase in a construction project by setting out clear lines of communication and a chain of command.
To begin with, this will usually be done via a project’s contract documents with a line of communication established between the client and contractor, with an architect acting as an intermediary.
The contract documents (drawings, specifications, certificates and architect’s instructions) will then provide the basis for all ongoing communication and, from hereon, different people involved in the project will have different responsibilities around communication. For instance, while the architect handles communication with other consultants, the contractor’s teams will be communicating with suppliers and subcontractors.
If any variations to the contract occur, it’s vital that these are discussed and communicated to all involved and that site instructions are documented and authorised. This will avoid disputes, delays and unnecessary costs.
To ensure all information is communicated well, make sure you have established points of contact for each workflow, and stick to them.
2. Select appropriate communication methods
These days, there are lots of different methods of communication that can be suited to construction, including using signs, drawings and photos on site, scheduling in-person meetings, and embracing digital channels like email, phone, video calls, text, WhatsApp, Zoom and Teams.
Every method has its advantages and disadvantages and choosing the best one often depends on the nature of what needs to be communicated, especially how much of a priority it might be.
A good method of improving communication is to standardise methods for specific tasks. This way, everyone in the team will be aware of what channels should be used in different circumstances and can deploy appropriate responses. For example, when you need to share documents, you might state that the standard channel is a particular file sharing platform. For urgent communications, however, you might set the standard as a WhatsApp call.
Having this kind of standardised approach in place will help to keep information consistent and ensure it gets through to those who need it at the right time.
3. Be clear and simplify
Another approach that really helps to improve communication is to always run a double-check over your messages, making sure the information you want to share is really clear and simplify it wherever that is possible.
Issuing communications that are really long or using jargon/ terms that people may not have come across are common mistakes, usually leading to confusion and misunderstandings.
The key is to find a good balance between giving enough detail so that people have all the information they need while keeping the message as brief as possible. So, avoid that jargon, use clear language and keep to the point. Try to get that point across in as little words as possible!
4. Take time to listen
When it comes to verbal communication (face-to-face, by phone or by video call), one of the simplest ways of ensuring communication is effective is simply to make sure you actually listen.
Pay close attention to what the other person is saying and take notes of the most important points. If something is not entirely clear to you, avoid interrupting them until they have finished speaking and wait for the right moment to ask your questions. Don’t wait until later to send a message asking for clarification as this could cause a delay in the work being fulfilled correctly.
If you are the speaker, make sure to speak as clearly as possible and check that those listening have understood. Some people may be reluctant to ask questions so actively seek feedback.
5. Connect the office and site teams
When communication across the whole company is good and everyone is working as an aligned team, there’s less room for mistakes and much better chances of both productivity and morale being high.
However, it’s common in construction for communication breakdowns to occur between the office and site workers and this can result in conflict, resentment, lower productivity and heaps of problems that could hinder the project’s success.
Modern-day technology offers great solutions for centralising communications and ensuring the office and site teams are well connected. Many platforms can provide real-time views of a project’s progress and be used as digital collaborative working spaces. Find what works best for your teams.
Maintaining strong communication
Communication affects every aspect of the building process and, as we said at the beginning of this blog, when communication is poor there can be serious consequences.
Avoid that by creating and maintaining good communication on your projects by establishing chains of communication; choosing the right communication methods and channels for your message (standardising these according to message types); being clear and simplifying your messaging; taking time to listen to others; and using technology resources and tools to connect the office and site teams.
Feature image: pathdoc/Shutterstock.com